This month’s T-SQL Tuesday #123, hosted by Jess Pomfret, is asking us to write about our favorite “life hacks” that make our lives easier. This topic has actually been pretty hot on my list for the past year or so, so I’m happy to share my experience.
About a year ago, on January, 2019, I started working in a new position in Madeira Data Solutions. Not just any position, but as a Team Leader… The first management-level position that I’ve ever got in my life! (wow! look at you, moving up in the world!)
I don’t need to tell you that moving from an “Individual Contributor” position to any sort of management position is no easy task. Most of all, you’re expected to be able to do more in less of the time! Not to mention that, while being in a management position, I was still expected to also contribute as an individual consultant! Imagine having to juggle several customers, while also leading a team of other consultants and being responsible for their productivity and quality of work!
This was a serious challenge indeed. I knew that my top-most priority would be to turbo-boost my own productivity skills in order to be able to handle everything else.
Well, after some research and advice from my CEO, I knew what I had to look for… I had to look for ways to reduce as much load on my brain and clear time from my schedule as possible. In other words, I had to outsource my mind. And, what this means for me is that I had to adopt as many productivity-enhancing tools and apps as I could and let them do as much heavy-lifting as possible.
So, what follows is a list of various apps and software that I started using, which helped me tremendously to boost my productivity and make my life easier. Hopefully, you’ll find them useful as well:
- Microsoft To-Do – This cool to-do list app, originally purchased by Microsoft from Wunderlist, has become my most favorite app in the world during this past year. It lets you manage multiple to-do lists, manage sub-checklists per each to-do item, attach files, set up reminders, and all kinds of other cool stuff. It’s very slick and easy to use. This app is also an integrated part of the Office 365 suite, so it integrates cleanly with Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Planner, and it comes in a variety of desktop, mobile and web platforms.
- Trello – Trello has taken the concept of Kanban boards and basically applied it to literally EVERYTHING. If you haven’t heard of Trello yet, I strongly recommend that you look into it. They also have a really cool series of blogs about the topic of productivity, with all kinds of useful tips & tricks and how to implement interesting methodologies using Kanban boards. The card due-date functionality is especially useful for setting up reminders.
- OneDrive, Dropbox, Google Drive – The big three file sharing giants. It doesn’t matter much which you choose as they’re very similar and follow the same concepts. Shoving all of my stuff up into “DA CLOUD” has also been a serious productivity boost for me. Whenever I need to find something, I can use the relevant file sharing provider and find it pretty quick, from ANYWHERE, ANY TIME. It also saves me a lot of time and headaches whenever I need to switch computers or use someone else’s workstation.
- KeePass – There are all kinds of useful password managers out there. My personal favorite is KeePass. Remembering dozens of different passwords is a serious drag, and using the same password for all of your accounts is a very dangerous thing. A password manager is truly a must these days. I also make a point of installing a compatible mobile phone app, and a browser extension, so that I can access my passwords from wherever I am.
- Business Calendar – This is a free Android phone app that I really love. It’s the most convenient and flexible multi-calendar manager app that I know of, that can cleanly and easily integrate multiple calendars from multiple providers. Also, unlike too many calendar apps on mobile, you can get an immediate textual preview of calendar items even in a month-view (instead of just a meaningless smudge of color that tells you there’s “something” scheduled in a specific time or day).
- GitHub Gists – In my day-to-day work I get to write a bunch of scripts for all kinds of interesting scenarios. Every once in a while I get to write something pretty cool which I think other people can also find useful, or that I will probably make use of again in the future. When that happens, I usually try to clean that script out of any personal information (to uphold my NDAs, after all) and then upload it to GitHub as a “Gist”. I also tend to upload here the scripts about which I later publish a blog post. Oh, and also, did I already mention that it’s accessible from anywhere, any time?
- Microsoft Teams – No, no, wait, hear me out! We at Madeira Data Solutions don’t actually use MS Teams for our daily internal communications. We have Slack for that and we love it. However, MS Teams has something that’s quite missing from other competitors (including Slack), and that’s the ease in which it’s possible to open a direct communications channel with an external contact. All you gotta do is enter that person’s e-mail address in the search bar at the top, choose “Search X externally…” and BAM! You find that person and get an instant chat channel! No need to bother with creating guest accounts, managing permissions, or requesting someone’s phone number! What makes this especially easy is the fact that MS Teams nowadays comes already pre-installed with Windows 10, and it’s also supposed to, eventually, replace Skype for Business (there’s even some interoperability supported so a Skype for Business user can directly chat with a MS Teams user and vice versa). So, really this app is rapidly becoming super-accessible to everyone and everywhere. Using such an easily-accessible communications channel is always preferable to the clunkiness of e-mail.
Generally, whenever I need to remember something, I write it down (whether in the ToDo app, the calendar, or in the password manager). Therefore, using mobile phone apps is important for this purpose, so that I won’t have to wait until I have direct computer access in order to write something down. I do my best to “offload” as much information out of my mind ASAP, so that I can get more room in my brain for the actually important stuff.
This might also include using apps such as Zapier, Microsoft Flow and others, that automate business workflows and integrations between different services and modules, or something like setting up Macros in your favorite desktop, mobile or web app. I do everything I can to create “shortcuts” for myself, and thus remove any potential time wasters from my life.
This way, I utilize a bunch of “digital assistants” of sorts, that do all the menial daily tasks for me.
You might have other ideas for how to utilize such “digital assistants”, and you may be using other equivalents of the tools that I mentioned (there are many competing brands of each). You’re definitely encouraged to share your experiences in the comments below.